A pre-recession era restriction on food stamps is about to be reinstated in North Carolina. The state will begin requiring childless able-bodied adults under 50 to work for food stamps.
“It’s a little complicated, and they’re going to need someone to help them understand and navigate it,” Regina Petteway, director of Wake County Human Services, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “We’re trying to ramp up our volunteer activity so that if people can’t find employment, they can volunteer with the county.”
The reinstated federal requirements mean recipients lose their benefits unless they are volunteering, taking classes, or working at least 20 hours a week. The rules, enacted during the welfare reform of 1996, were suspended for most states when the 2008 recession hit, and the number of recipients rose dramatically as employment opportunities dropped.
“In some ways, that was the goal of welfare reform,” Scott Winship, a conservative researcher who defends welfare reform, told Politico.
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It was to make people more reliant on work, on marriage, on private safety nets rather than on a public system that had all these perverse incentives. But I do think it’s not adequately recognized the extent to which the safety net remains pretty robust for people who don’t work, primarily because of the expansion of SNAP benefits. But also we’ve had an expansion of health benefits. Housing benefits certainly haven’t declined over time. It’s certainly the case that if these other expansions hadn’t happened, we would have seen poverty go up. But it’s also probably the case, that if we still had the old AFDC system, all of these expansions of SNAP and Medicaid and to some extent unemployment insurance, those wouldn’t have been nearly as generous.
But Rick Glazier, a former North Carolina state legislator, now at the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center, disagrees.
“It’s part and parcel of a ripping away of the safety net,” he said to the Raleigh News & Observer. “The legislature is going to have to revisit these decisions.”
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Nonprofits “very rarely get a 20-hour-a-week slot for anybody,” added Alexandra Sirota, director of the Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center. She also noted that when people live "in a rural place, it’s hard for them to drive to the community college.”